John Kruk, <EM>Baseball Tonight</EM> John Kruk, Baseball Tonight

As the national pastime approaches mid-season, Baseball Tonight (10 pm/ET, on ESPN) analyst John Kruk weighs in on Bonds, A-Rod and the game's other hot topics.

TV Guide: You never had a chance to play for a Wild Card playoff spot. How do you think that has changed players’ and teams’ mind-sets entering July and August?
John Kruk: Well, it gives everyone a chance, but it’s more confusing to me. You look at the divisions and say, "This team’s out, that team’s out.... Oh, wait a second." The Phillies have been in back of the Mets all season but always have that Wild Card [chance]. It’s good for players because you stay motivated and have more meaningful games. The bad thing is that too many teams can’t realize what they have as a team, so they keep guys and then lose them to free agency. I have a feeling the Reds, even though they’re in a bad division, will say, ‘We can trade Adam Dunn, he’s a free agent," but then say, ‘We have a legit chance to get back in the race," so they keep him.

TV Guide: What do you think of today’s obsession with pitch counts?
Kruk: I really think they baby kids. Everyone says the more you throw the worse it is, but you just have to throw the right way. [Pitching coach] Leo Mazzone used to have the Braves throwing all the time, just at 60 to 70 percent, on off days. I think guys should throw more. And keep them on the mound. Why should a pitcher ever throw on flat ground? How do you build up arm strength? Not by lifting a five-pound dumbbell! You pitch! There’s a funny story from when I was with the Phillies: [Curt] Schilling was throwing a gem one day, and he’s a high-strikeout guy so his pitch count’s always going to be high. [Manager] Jim Fregosi asked [pitching coach] Johnny Podres, "How many pitches does he have?" and Podres said, "82." So Schilling goes back out for another dominant inning and he comes back in and Fregosi asks what he's got; Podres said, "79." [Laughs] Schilling’s philosophy was always, "Why should I turn it over to a guy who’s not as good as me?" The starters should be your best pitchers, then your closer, then the middle guys.

TV Guide: How much stock do you put in these approaching milestones: Craig Biggio’s 3,000 hits, Tom Glavine’s 300 wins and Barry Bonds’ 756 home runs?
Kruk:
The one that’s most fascinating to me is Glavine. Having faced him early in his career, you thought, "He's good, but not a 300-win guy." But he mastered the change-up and throws it in any count. Craig Biggio came up as a catcher, so talk about fate playing into 3,000 hits. His career would’ve been over now had they not moved him to outfield and second base. As for Barry, people say his record is tainted, but how many players who hold records haven’t done some form of performance-enhancing drug? Not steroids, but amphetamines and others. We should celebrate the fact that Barry’s breaking this thing, and if all this other stuff comes out and these steroids are the only reason — which they aren’t — that Bonds is such a great player, then you have to take the record away from him. There are players I’ve watched who wouldn’t have been great without steroids, but Barry was great before all the allegations.

TV Guide: Can you see people supporting Alex Rodriguez in his pursuit of Bonds’ record one day?
Kruk:
I don’t know if people are ever going to like him. People look at him and see all the little incidents. He’s in the absolute worst city if he wants sympathy, and he’s always compared to the guy to his immediate left, Derek Jeter. Yankees fans saw Jeter struggle early in his career, but only saw the great highlights of A-Rod on other teams. Now they say in 600 at-bats he should have 600 homers, unless he gets on top of one and hits a double. If he can get out of New York and go somewhere else, I think he’d be much better off. This year he just said, "[Forget] everybody, I don’t care what you say. I’m going to put up my numbers. If we win, we win. If we don’t, we don’t. But it won’t be my fault."

TV Guide: Who are your favorite players to watch these days?
Kruk: Ichiro [Suzuki]’s up there. Jose Reyes is exciting. Jimmy Rollins is exciting when he’s not popping up. I still enjoy Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez, Chase Utley, and [Dodgers catcher] Russell Martin is becoming one of my favorites. Probably my favorite guy to watch is [Tigers 2B] Placido Polanco. Bats second, does whatever it takes to win, and a great, great hitter. Don’t think he gets the proper respect he deserves, and he doesn’t have to hit a bunch of home runs to be considered one of the best.

TV Guide: If the Yankees needed help at first base, could you play for a day?
Kruk: [Chuckles] I told Joe Torre, "With the money you guys are throwing out, I could help you out. I could pinch-hit once a month." My last year in Chicago, they put me at first base one game and the first hitter hit a bullet right at me. Not only could I not catch it, I couldn’t get out of the way of it. It hit me in the bare hand. I decided it’s about time to go if I can’t catch that ball.

TV Guide: When’s the last time you swung a bat?
Kruk: Sometimes on the [Baseball Tonight] set. But I swing a golf club. Much rather hit a golf ball than a baseball right now.

TV Guide: I see you retired with exactly a .300 batting average and 100 home runs. Just coincidence?
Kruk: Oh, yeah. My agent called two weeks after my last hit and asked, "Are you hurt? Why aren’t you playing?" I told him no, I retired. No one knew. I just knew it was time. Ozzie [Guillen] and Robin [Ventura] knew it was time. That’s the funny thing, I told [my White Sox teammates] I’d quit once I got another hit, and it took four or five games to get that hit. It wasn’t like I said, "This is the one I have to get to hit .300." I grew up two-and-a-half hours from Baltimore, in West Virginia, so I was really motivated to get that hit in Baltimore because I didn’t want to have to fly to Chicago and then come home.

TV Guide: Is there a current player who reminds you of yourself?
Kruk: I think [Toronto’s] Matt Stairs, you know, the body type. He’s got more power and I’d probably hit for better average, but we both use the whole field. Maybe Sean Casey. I’m a better runner than him. He’s a great contact hitter, not a lot of power.

TV Guide: Do you follow any sports outside of baseball?
Kruk: Golf and wrestling. How’s that for opposites? I like the entertainment. And I love the PGA Tour. Karl Ravech and I always keep one TV on the golf. I watch the men, the women, and I love women’s softball, too. Gives me something else to complain about.

TV Guide: Are there any current players who would make good Baseball Tonight analysts?
Kruk: Sean Casey would be great. Gary Sheffield would be good, but I tell you what, he might get us in trouble. [Laughs] No, I love his brutal honesty, even if it’s not always politically correct.

TV Guide: Ever think you’ll sit next to [former controversial Phillies teammate] Curt Schilling on the set?
Kruk: No, no. He’d be great at it, but that’d be a decision ESPN has to make. I just don’t think it would work out between the two of us, if you know what I mean.

TV Guide: You’re not a reader of his blog?
Kruk:
[Laughs] If he feels the fans want to hear from him, that’s great. He’s not afraid to speak his mind. That’s what you have to have to do this, because you’re going to upset people with things you say. And people look at you like you're nuts when you make your predictions.

TV Guide: Well, your World Series picks [the Tigers and the Dodgers] are working out pretty well so far.
Kruk: Yeah, but I’m hoping it's Dodgers-Angels or the two New York teams. That way we don’t have to travel!

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